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Courage Award

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Recovering from stroke can be an uphill battle. The Courage Award recognises the indomitable courage and hope shown by survivors and carers in facing stroke recovery. This category is open to survivors and carers and celebrates individual recovery and resilience.

Courage Award Winner & Finalists

Tracey Gibb - Winner

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

It changed my life, dramatically. I lost my friends, my dreams of having a family of my own had been taken away from me and I lost my boyfriend and any chance of getting married. I didn't get any treatment or rehabilitation.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

Mostly my mum and family.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

They did change my life, in a massive way, but I am slowly getting back more of me and my life. Sure, I am still in this chair, and I am still locked in my body, but hey, I am alive. I have been given a 2nd chance. I have moved out of Highgate Park (formally known as Julia Farr), and into a house shared with another lady. However, I have decided that sharing isn’t for me and I am looking at moving out into my own city apartment. I now have a casual job at Scope Global, where I am part of a team with just disabled people, called Maven. I am getting back my independence and loving it. I haven’t given up on getting unlocked from my body, I’ll never give up on this.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

I have learnt since my stroke, never say never, never give up on your dreams, and what you believe too, be true to your heart. Also, get rid of all negative people who are in your life, they will just drag you down. Even though it will hurt, this is your life.

Tracey Anne Farnsworth

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

I have had two strokes. First in 2012 and the following in 2016. A stroke is completely life changing from the moment it happens. Initially talking and walking was off the table. And my right side was in a world of its own. I remember my Father and husband at the hospital, along with a physiotherapist trying to get my right side to walk. I took as many walks as I could around the ward with my Dad on one side and my husband on the other. I got there in the end. I needed my independence and that included getting from A to B. Talking, brain function, emotional blocking, thinking and a right side that didn’t work were all things that were different in life. I was treated at Epworth, Richmond and the services they provided medically and in rehab was life changing. I spent the first 6 weeks in hospital and then continued outpatient rehab for one year.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

I’ve had the most supportive husband through my entire stroke journeys. Matthew has been the rock for me. No matter what I’ve thrown at him in 20 years of marriage, he is still my number one supporter. I’ve also had the support of one of my amazing dogs. Alfie is a Maltese x shit zhu and from the first day he visited and sat on my lap in a wheelchair, we have been inseparable. Without Matthew and Alfie, things may have been very different.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

Stroke changes you. Inside and out, you become someone that is a different to normal. You teach yourself things to help you cope with any deficits you may have. I got to reinvent myself and now I have a charity in Vanuatu that keeps my mind occupied. Returning to my normal vocation wasn’t an option, so I’ve been lucky enough to follow my passion to help less fortunate children. My journey has brought me to my new normal, my new me! I don’t need to look back because I look in front to where I’m going.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

Give yourself a break, it’s always tough at the start, but don’t give up. Work hard early to regain you... some things will take time to come back, but celebrate the small wins.

Rebecca Carbone

Rebecca

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

My stroke journey is an unusual one!

In 2014 a couple of small strokes were investigated and lead to the discovery of a tennis ball size brain tumour in the Cerebellum/Brain Stem area. Surgery was quickly organized.

Initially, the resection was successful. During the night, I suffered a hemorrhage in the same area. I was rushed into emergency surgery early the next morning. My prognosis was grim. I wasn’t expected to survive. Against all odds I woke up the following morning. I had lost absolutely everything. Every gross and fine motor skill. My speech. My vision (temporarily). My hair. I was like a vegetable.

My parents were advised by the neurology team to have me permanently placed in a nursing home with 24 hour care. Despite several neurological assessments (conducted by multiple hospitals) concluding there was no likelihood of recovery, my family refused. I was eventually admitted to the state head injury unit. Ironically, this same unit had assessed me as unable to be rehabilitated.

I have spent the past five years intensive rehabilitation including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and counselling – all of which I continue to this day. I practice mindfulness and meditate daily, avoid stress at all costs, and maintain a positive attitude. Frequent visualisation of my rehabilitation goals has been – and still is – crucial to my success.

To date, I have been diagnosed with three further tumours in the Cerebellum/Brain Stem. I have yearly MRI’s to monitor the tumours as these are inoperable. The tumours - named Beryl, Meryl, and Cheryl - are stable and have shown no change. I have regained all motor skills, my driver’s license, and speak with a very slight speech impediment.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

I have been incredibly blessed to have the unwavering support of my immediate family and my GP. Collectively, they made an enormous effort to advocate for me and my rehabilitation. The clinicians I have had throughout have been most encouraging and helpful, providing exercises I could replicate twice daily at home.

Fortunately my close friendship circle has stayed by my side. I'm more of a social butterfly now than I was beforehand!

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

The only tangible things I have left from my past are my loved ones, my pets, and my wardrobe. I lost absolutely everything. Every motor skill. My speech. My vision (temporarily). My career. My relationship. Every distinct and unique quality that made me, me. My pre-stroke life seems like a dream that happened to someone else.

Currently I am studying Life Coaching and am a student of the Lived Experience Educator Project run by the Faculty of Health Sciences at Curtin University. This program may lead to employment within the faculty in different capacities – such as associate lecture, peer tutor, research assistant, etc – alongside students studying Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Social Work.

I speak to neurological support groups around Western Australia and volunteer with The Training Centre in Subacute Care (TRACS WA) to present the workshop Goal Setting in Rehabilitation to health workers and clinicians at hospitals around the State. Myself and TRACS WA (https://www.subacutecare.org.au/j/) were scheduled to present at the Australasian Society for the Study of Brain Impairment 2020 Conference (https://www.assbi.com.au/). Wisely, this conference hasbeen cancelled however I am preparing to make a submission next year!

I volunteer on the board of two not-for-profit organizations in the health sector as well as provide peer advocacy and support to other survivors throughout the country. In my spare time, I run a Facebook page titled Create Your Masterpiece Empowered Learning (https://www.facebook.com/CreateYourBeautifulMasterpiece/) where I provide encouragement and inspiration to a global audience.

My overall goal is to qualify as an Occupational Therapist. I intend to use all my qualifications and lived experience to assist other stroke and other brain injury survivors in rehabilitation and recreating a fulfilling life.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

To quote the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Find your goal. Narrow that goal down into the smallest details no matter how insignificant to create the way forward. When you achieve that goal, find another goal. Remember to celebrate every success no matter how insignificant it may seem.

The stroke journey is not linear. Be prepared to progress at the rate of two steps forward and one step back. It is full of triumphs and tears. Hope is one the most incredibly precious components of this journey. Empower yourself to draw boundaries and remove any naysayers who do not believe in you.

Rehabilitation may very well be the most difficult thing you have done but that amazing moment when you accomplish what others believed to be impossible is the sweetest reward of all!

Melissa Aveyard Cowie

Melissa

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

How did stroke change my life? It took it away, tipped it upside down and gave it back to me to piece back together.

I went to sleep one day fine; young, fit and healthy. I woke up the next, unable to walk, comprehend things or use the left-hand side of my body. In the early days of recovery, I gained the use of my arm and leg back with a few weeks. Emotionally and mentally though it took a huge toll, I cried a lot and didn't know why, I would be so tired, my brain would get so over stimulated, I was so alone in a ward of old people, it was scary. I felt so vulnerable and alone.

I still suffer anxiety and I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

My friends got scared and a lot of them walked out of my life forever.

As far as rehab went, I got intensive physio and occupied therapy on the stroke unit. They wanted me to go to rehab but I didn't want to go because I decided they were all old and I wanted to go home.

I did a number of exercises at home with pegs and therapy putty to help with fine motor and strength, I also accessed a hydro pool to do some exercises. When I was discharged, I wasn't given any further follow up or rehabilitation. I had to source it myself.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

In the early days, my parents and grandparents, my brother and his wife, and a few good friends, especially Max. These people never gave up on me and they were a huge support. In later years: my husband and kids, the young Victorian young stroke group founders Brooke and Wayne, the ACT stroke association and the other ACT stroke safe ambassadors. Also, two members of the ACT support group Glynda and Meg.

Actually, in a way everyone, I have amazing friends and family, I'm very fortunate.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

Before my stroke I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life. I was 19 years old, I had held a few jobs; most of them had been working with disabled and disadvantaged people but I had no real career pathway planned. While I was in hospital, I realised I wanted to do something in healthcare. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people. I studied and worked for a few years as an occupational therapy assistant on the rehab ward at my local hospital, working mainly with stroke survivors.

While working as an OT assistant I decided I wanted to be a nurse. I studied my enrolled nursing and then my Registered nursing, I have held various positions as a nurse over 10 years, I'm currently working as a community nurse.

I believe that having been a patient myself and having insight to how scary it can be, has made me have a lot of empathy and I am able to relate and build rapport easily.

Having a stroke at a young age showed me my own mortality and definitely gave my life direction and it helped ground me. My bad days are further apart now than they used to be. My stroke journey has been great. I have met great people and had amazing opportunities such as being involved in the launch of media campaigns at parliament house in Canberra. I have been on TV and radio and I have been a speaker at a stroke conference.

I founded a young stroke support group for other young people and I give talks to community groups as part of the stroke safe ambassador program. I’m proud of what I have achieved post stroke especially being a wife and Mum. I didn't know what was in my future but I'm very fortunate.

My journey continues.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

Be kind to yourself. Everyone's journey is different but you’re not alone. There are plenty of resources out there now. You have got this.

Jasmine West

Jasmine

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

All I thought was ‘this is it, my life’s over’. I was 25 and a fitness fanatic and all of a sudden, I couldn’t move anything but my eyes.

My stroke was a sudden event when I simply turned around at work and tore my basilar artery after a misdiagnosis of vertigo, I went home and slept. That morning I woke up in tears and everything from here gets really blurry. I was flown out to saint Vincent’s Melbourne where after four days of declining health, it was prompted I get a tracheostomy or die; Tracheostomy it was. After 18 days on life support and a bout of aspiration pneuomia, I lived.

I woke up in high dependency with locked in syndrome, all I could do was blink and think my hospital room was part of a plane. I could’ve sworn someone was asleep in there with me. After I came round a little more, I was then moved to a stroke ward, where I gained some movement slowly and was slowly getting weaned off my tracheostomy. All the while I was trapped like a prisoner in my own head (scary place). It was torture. Can you imagine everyone talking to you but you’re actually unable to respond besides a blink?

After gaining more movement back and having good results with my tracheostomy, I was transferred into Rehabilitation where daily physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy begun. It was slow going, but it was going and something was happening; I was unlocking.

My Tracheostomy was removed finally, the wound healed and I started talking again! I knew everything would be ok then. I could talk and I haven’t been quiet since. But it wasn’t that easy sadly, I ended up with aspiration pneumonia again and a code was called, I spent one night back in ICU.

The early days of beginning to speak all over again was like baby talk, people had the hardest time understanding but I would repeat a word or phrase over and over until someone understood me. My persistence has paid off. Part of my physiotherapy was to get me back on my feet and even just sit up by myself; that was the first goal. Slowly and slowly I started hitting goals and milestones. After 5 months of ICU, high dependency, stroke ward then intensive rehabilitation, I walked out completely unlocked.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

I returned home with no real supports; the main one was my partner at the time. Unfortunately, our relationship ended on a bad note. I was homeless, staying in hotels for 2 weeks until pleading my case to a property manager and getting a unit. I thankfully was completing my Certificate IV in Mental Health at the same time and had the people from my course and owner of the gym I attended for support and my old employer gave support as well. I was free; it was such a relief. Life had changed, for the better I think.

Now, as a year has passed, I have more supports: my boxing coach, my exercise psychologist, my whole rehabilitation team supports me and are my friends, The Stroke Foundation is a support and many more.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

My stroke has changed my life; I am no longer physically able to achieve the running I once had, but I gained so much as well from my stroke. It didn’t take away my brain and ability to learn. I am able to walk, talk and most of all eat yummy goodness that is food! I am at University this year with a scholarship studying psychology science. I always wanted higher education, but my childhood was impoverished and traumatic. My stroke has allowed me to follow my dreams and aspirations although a little differently, but hey I must admit having a stroke can come with perks if you allow them.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

My advice for stroke sufferers is you aren’t a victim. You are still you and you decide what effects the stroke has on you. The stroke doesn’t rule you as the individual you are, you rule the stroke. Be you. You do you; the stroke tags along third wheeling you. You are a stroke thriver and if you keep trying and trying something happens. Don’t ever give up and let your stroke win.

Tracey Gibb - Winner

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

It changed my life, dramatically. I lost my friends, my dreams of having a family of my own had been taken away from me and I lost my boyfriend and any chance of getting married. I didn't get any treatment or rehabilitation.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

Mostly my mum and family.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

They did change my life, in a massive way, but I am slowly getting back more of me and my life. Sure, I am still in this chair, and I am still locked in my body, but hey, I am alive. I have been given a 2nd chance. I have moved out of Highgate Park (formally known as Julia Farr), and into a house shared with another lady. However, I have decided that sharing isn’t for me and I am looking at moving out into my own city apartment. I now have a casual job at Scope Global, where I am part of a team with just disabled people, called Maven. I am getting back my independence and loving it. I haven’t given up on getting unlocked from my body, I’ll never give up on this.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

I have learnt since my stroke, never say never, never give up on your dreams, and what you believe too, be true to your heart. Also, get rid of all negative people who are in your life, they will just drag you down. Even though it will hurt, this is your life.

Tracey Anne Farnsworth

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

I have had two strokes. First in 2012 and the following in 2016. A stroke is completely life changing from the moment it happens. Initially talking and walking was off the table. And my right side was in a world of its own. I remember my Father and husband at the hospital, along with a physiotherapist trying to get my right side to walk. I took as many walks as I could around the ward with my Dad on one side and my husband on the other. I got there in the end. I needed my independence and that included getting from A to B. Talking, brain function, emotional blocking, thinking and a right side that didn’t work were all things that were different in life. I was treated at Epworth, Richmond and the services they provided medically and in rehab was life changing. I spent the first 6 weeks in hospital and then continued outpatient rehab for one year.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

I’ve had the most supportive husband through my entire stroke journeys. Matthew has been the rock for me. No matter what I’ve thrown at him in 20 years of marriage, he is still my number one supporter. I’ve also had the support of one of my amazing dogs. Alfie is a Maltese x shit zhu and from the first day he visited and sat on my lap in a wheelchair, we have been inseparable. Without Matthew and Alfie, things may have been very different.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

Stroke changes you. Inside and out, you become someone that is a different to normal. You teach yourself things to help you cope with any deficits you may have. I got to reinvent myself and now I have a charity in Vanuatu that keeps my mind occupied. Returning to my normal vocation wasn’t an option, so I’ve been lucky enough to follow my passion to help less fortunate children. My journey has brought me to my new normal, my new me! I don’t need to look back because I look in front to where I’m going.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

Give yourself a break, it’s always tough at the start, but don’t give up. Work hard early to regain you... some things will take time to come back, but celebrate the small wins.

Rebecca Carbone

Rebecca

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

My stroke journey is an unusual one!

In 2014 a couple of small strokes were investigated and lead to the discovery of a tennis ball size brain tumour in the Cerebellum/Brain Stem area. Surgery was quickly organized.

Initially, the resection was successful. During the night, I suffered a hemorrhage in the same area. I was rushed into emergency surgery early the next morning. My prognosis was grim. I wasn’t expected to survive. Against all odds I woke up the following morning. I had lost absolutely everything. Every gross and fine motor skill. My speech. My vision (temporarily). My hair. I was like a vegetable.

My parents were advised by the neurology team to have me permanently placed in a nursing home with 24 hour care. Despite several neurological assessments (conducted by multiple hospitals) concluding there was no likelihood of recovery, my family refused. I was eventually admitted to the state head injury unit. Ironically, this same unit had assessed me as unable to be rehabilitated.

I have spent the past five years intensive rehabilitation including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and counselling – all of which I continue to this day. I practice mindfulness and meditate daily, avoid stress at all costs, and maintain a positive attitude. Frequent visualisation of my rehabilitation goals has been – and still is – crucial to my success.

To date, I have been diagnosed with three further tumours in the Cerebellum/Brain Stem. I have yearly MRI’s to monitor the tumours as these are inoperable. The tumours - named Beryl, Meryl, and Cheryl - are stable and have shown no change. I have regained all motor skills, my driver’s license, and speak with a very slight speech impediment.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

I have been incredibly blessed to have the unwavering support of my immediate family and my GP. Collectively, they made an enormous effort to advocate for me and my rehabilitation. The clinicians I have had throughout have been most encouraging and helpful, providing exercises I could replicate twice daily at home.

Fortunately my close friendship circle has stayed by my side. I'm more of a social butterfly now than I was beforehand!

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

The only tangible things I have left from my past are my loved ones, my pets, and my wardrobe. I lost absolutely everything. Every motor skill. My speech. My vision (temporarily). My career. My relationship. Every distinct and unique quality that made me, me. My pre-stroke life seems like a dream that happened to someone else.

Currently I am studying Life Coaching and am a student of the Lived Experience Educator Project run by the Faculty of Health Sciences at Curtin University. This program may lead to employment within the faculty in different capacities – such as associate lecture, peer tutor, research assistant, etc – alongside students studying Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Social Work.

I speak to neurological support groups around Western Australia and volunteer with The Training Centre in Subacute Care (TRACS WA) to present the workshop Goal Setting in Rehabilitation to health workers and clinicians at hospitals around the State. Myself and TRACS WA (https://www.subacutecare.org.au/j/) were scheduled to present at the Australasian Society for the Study of Brain Impairment 2020 Conference (https://www.assbi.com.au/). Wisely, this conference hasbeen cancelled however I am preparing to make a submission next year!

I volunteer on the board of two not-for-profit organizations in the health sector as well as provide peer advocacy and support to other survivors throughout the country. In my spare time, I run a Facebook page titled Create Your Masterpiece Empowered Learning (https://www.facebook.com/CreateYourBeautifulMasterpiece/) where I provide encouragement and inspiration to a global audience.

My overall goal is to qualify as an Occupational Therapist. I intend to use all my qualifications and lived experience to assist other stroke and other brain injury survivors in rehabilitation and recreating a fulfilling life.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

To quote the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Find your goal. Narrow that goal down into the smallest details no matter how insignificant to create the way forward. When you achieve that goal, find another goal. Remember to celebrate every success no matter how insignificant it may seem.

The stroke journey is not linear. Be prepared to progress at the rate of two steps forward and one step back. It is full of triumphs and tears. Hope is one the most incredibly precious components of this journey. Empower yourself to draw boundaries and remove any naysayers who do not believe in you.

Rehabilitation may very well be the most difficult thing you have done but that amazing moment when you accomplish what others believed to be impossible is the sweetest reward of all!

Melissa Aveyard Cowie

Melissa

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

How did stroke change my life? It took it away, tipped it upside down and gave it back to me to piece back together.

I went to sleep one day fine; young, fit and healthy. I woke up the next, unable to walk, comprehend things or use the left-hand side of my body. In the early days of recovery, I gained the use of my arm and leg back with a few weeks. Emotionally and mentally though it took a huge toll, I cried a lot and didn't know why, I would be so tired, my brain would get so over stimulated, I was so alone in a ward of old people, it was scary. I felt so vulnerable and alone.

I still suffer anxiety and I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

My friends got scared and a lot of them walked out of my life forever.

As far as rehab went, I got intensive physio and occupied therapy on the stroke unit. They wanted me to go to rehab but I didn't want to go because I decided they were all old and I wanted to go home.

I did a number of exercises at home with pegs and therapy putty to help with fine motor and strength, I also accessed a hydro pool to do some exercises. When I was discharged, I wasn't given any further follow up or rehabilitation. I had to source it myself.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

In the early days, my parents and grandparents, my brother and his wife, and a few good friends, especially Max. These people never gave up on me and they were a huge support. In later years: my husband and kids, the young Victorian young stroke group founders Brooke and Wayne, the ACT stroke association and the other ACT stroke safe ambassadors. Also, two members of the ACT support group Glynda and Meg.

Actually, in a way everyone, I have amazing friends and family, I'm very fortunate.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

Before my stroke I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life. I was 19 years old, I had held a few jobs; most of them had been working with disabled and disadvantaged people but I had no real career pathway planned. While I was in hospital, I realised I wanted to do something in healthcare. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people. I studied and worked for a few years as an occupational therapy assistant on the rehab ward at my local hospital, working mainly with stroke survivors.

While working as an OT assistant I decided I wanted to be a nurse. I studied my enrolled nursing and then my Registered nursing, I have held various positions as a nurse over 10 years, I'm currently working as a community nurse.

I believe that having been a patient myself and having insight to how scary it can be, has made me have a lot of empathy and I am able to relate and build rapport easily.

Having a stroke at a young age showed me my own mortality and definitely gave my life direction and it helped ground me. My bad days are further apart now than they used to be. My stroke journey has been great. I have met great people and had amazing opportunities such as being involved in the launch of media campaigns at parliament house in Canberra. I have been on TV and radio and I have been a speaker at a stroke conference.

I founded a young stroke support group for other young people and I give talks to community groups as part of the stroke safe ambassador program. I’m proud of what I have achieved post stroke especially being a wife and Mum. I didn't know what was in my future but I'm very fortunate.

My journey continues.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

Be kind to yourself. Everyone's journey is different but you’re not alone. There are plenty of resources out there now. You have got this.

Jasmine West

Jasmine

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?

All I thought was ‘this is it, my life’s over’. I was 25 and a fitness fanatic and all of a sudden, I couldn’t move anything but my eyes.

My stroke was a sudden event when I simply turned around at work and tore my basilar artery after a misdiagnosis of vertigo, I went home and slept. That morning I woke up in tears and everything from here gets really blurry. I was flown out to saint Vincent’s Melbourne where after four days of declining health, it was prompted I get a tracheostomy or die; Tracheostomy it was. After 18 days on life support and a bout of aspiration pneuomia, I lived.

I woke up in high dependency with locked in syndrome, all I could do was blink and think my hospital room was part of a plane. I could’ve sworn someone was asleep in there with me. After I came round a little more, I was then moved to a stroke ward, where I gained some movement slowly and was slowly getting weaned off my tracheostomy. All the while I was trapped like a prisoner in my own head (scary place). It was torture. Can you imagine everyone talking to you but you’re actually unable to respond besides a blink?

After gaining more movement back and having good results with my tracheostomy, I was transferred into Rehabilitation where daily physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy begun. It was slow going, but it was going and something was happening; I was unlocking.

My Tracheostomy was removed finally, the wound healed and I started talking again! I knew everything would be ok then. I could talk and I haven’t been quiet since. But it wasn’t that easy sadly, I ended up with aspiration pneumonia again and a code was called, I spent one night back in ICU.

The early days of beginning to speak all over again was like baby talk, people had the hardest time understanding but I would repeat a word or phrase over and over until someone understood me. My persistence has paid off. Part of my physiotherapy was to get me back on my feet and even just sit up by myself; that was the first goal. Slowly and slowly I started hitting goals and milestones. After 5 months of ICU, high dependency, stroke ward then intensive rehabilitation, I walked out completely unlocked.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?

I returned home with no real supports; the main one was my partner at the time. Unfortunately, our relationship ended on a bad note. I was homeless, staying in hotels for 2 weeks until pleading my case to a property manager and getting a unit. I thankfully was completing my Certificate IV in Mental Health at the same time and had the people from my course and owner of the gym I attended for support and my old employer gave support as well. I was free; it was such a relief. Life had changed, for the better I think.

Now, as a year has passed, I have more supports: my boxing coach, my exercise psychologist, my whole rehabilitation team supports me and are my friends, The Stroke Foundation is a support and many more.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

My stroke has changed my life; I am no longer physically able to achieve the running I once had, but I gained so much as well from my stroke. It didn’t take away my brain and ability to learn. I am able to walk, talk and most of all eat yummy goodness that is food! I am at University this year with a scholarship studying psychology science. I always wanted higher education, but my childhood was impoverished and traumatic. My stroke has allowed me to follow my dreams and aspirations although a little differently, but hey I must admit having a stroke can come with perks if you allow them.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?

My advice for stroke sufferers is you aren’t a victim. You are still you and you decide what effects the stroke has on you. The stroke doesn’t rule you as the individual you are, you rule the stroke. Be you. You do you; the stroke tags along third wheeling you. You are a stroke thriver and if you keep trying and trying something happens. Don’t ever give up and let your stroke win.

Stephen and Tracy Ward - NSW - Winner

Tracy and Stephen Ward

When and where did you suffer your stroke?
In 2013 Stephen had a headache one morning and while Tracy popped out of the house with their daughter Emily, Stephen suffered a stroke.  Tracy found him on the floor fifteen minutes later and recognising the FAST signs called triple zero immediately.  Unfortunately the paramedic that arrived twenty five minutes later, did not believe Stephen was having a stroke and transferred him to their local district hospital – which does not have a stroke unit.  Stephen arrived at the stroke unit approximately six hours after he suffered his stroke and missed time critical treatment.

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?
As a result Stephen spent 4 weeks in intensive care after undergoing emergency cranioplasty and suffered further complications later in ICU.  He then spent 6 weeks on the stroke ward and 5 months in rehabilitation.  All whilst Tracy and their children lived 150 km away in Denman.  Stephen was left with aphasia, some cognitive issues and right sided hemiplegia and hemianopia.

One thing that always bothered them about their experience was that if they had lived in a city, Stephen probably would have been able to access emergency clot busting therapy and would be back to living a full life.  Stephen will probably never return to work as a civil engineer and Tracy will always be his carer. 
 
How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?
When the Stroke Foundation were looking for people to talk to the media for their “No Postcode Untouched” promotion, Stephen and Tracy jumped at the chance to tell their story if only to bring more awareness of the divide that exists between city and country.  They later had the chance to tell their story to the people who can change the system.  Tracy and Stephen travelled to Parliament House in Canberra and addressed an audience that included the health minister, the Honourable Greg Hunt.

Since that day Tracy and Stephen have spent time contacting their local state and federal politicians to talk about funding for Stroke.  During the lead up to the NSW state election Tracy and Stephen spoke to four of the candidates in their seat securing support for the Stroke Foundation’s election platform.

They will continue to talk about their experience with politicians until the telehealth program is fully funded and there are much better retrieval systems in place for people who suffer strokes in the country.

Tania Shirgwin - SA

Tania Shirgwin

Tania was running her own small creative agency working with tourism and hospitality when she had her stroke. Luckily she recognised the stroke F.A.S.T. symptoms and has been making recovery and lives life to the fullest potential. 

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?
The stroke has left me with Homonymous Hemianopia, left side mobility issues and other strange habits (like I can’t keep my left shoe on unless it’s strapped on). Also I still have stroke fatigue, but it is nowhere as prominent as it was in the first year. I also suffer continual pain in my left side and get my arm strapped regularly. Also straight after the stroke, I found writing very difficult – it took me 2 hours once to write a Facebook post because I could not come up with the word umbrella. 
 
The loss of license (independence) became my biggest challenge because we were unsure how much visual field I had and I had to undergo driver Occupational Therapy and retrain. When I came out of rehabilitation, I was fortunate that my own physiotherapist did hydrotherapy. 

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?
So so many people – it took a community! For my close family and friends – my big sister who left her family on Christmas Day to be with our 86 year old mum.  
A few friends banned together to pick me up after their kids school drop off and get me to hydro. Others picked me up after or organised the taxi service. It took my community – but everyone was so helpful and I am so grateful. 

BUT a huge thanks goes to a friend Claudine who is a nurse and recognised immediately I should connect with the Stroke Foundation. I actually hadn’t been told in either the hospital or rehab about the Stroke Foundation, so Claudine pulled all the information together and would visit me regularly driving up from Adelaide to assist me. She forced me to connect with the Stroke Foundation and that is when I realised I wasn’t alone. It was so enlightening to connect with others in a similar situation. 

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?
Of course stroke has changed my life immensely.  Four years in, I feel I have accomplished a lot though. Undertaking The Long Drive Up in Sept 2018 and fundraising for the Stroke Foundation was cathartic – gave me insights into my stroke journey and life journey. It also gave me closure on a few things which has helped keep me positive. Stroke will always be a part of my life, but it doesn’t define who I am.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?
Do not give in or give up!  It may seem bleak and you will most possibly go through stages of grief and depression. Reach out to others – ask for help. And do connect with other stroke survivors whether that be in your local region or through the Stroke Foundation. 

Shane Isles - QLD

Shane Isles and his family

Shane was an active 29 year old who loved the outdoors when his life changed immensely. Shane was a fighter and has returned to many of his former abilities as well as being a father of two and becoming a recreation officer in the rehabilitation unit. 

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?
Having a stroke changed my life immensely because it took some time for me to accept that it (the injury to my brain) was going to take a great length of time for me to reach a point where my recovery had reached its peak. I must admit that at times rehabilitation and therapy seemed insurmountable. Sometimes I would get frustrated and upset very easily and didn’t know why. I set achievable tasks for each day to avoid burn out.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

The one stand out positive way in which stroke has changed my life is that I am now employed as a recreation officer for Queensland Health at the Bundaberg Hospital (a goal I set back in 2011). I am extremely fortunate to have a job where I can make a real difference to patients in the ward in which I work, In particular the stroke patients.  

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?
My advice is to accept the help from those around you including loved ones and health professionals because things are more challenging than before you have your stroke. Additionally try not to think too much about what you can’t do anymore, but focus on the things that you can.

Rob Goyen - WA

Rob Goyen

Rob has shown exceptional dedication to improving his own life after stroke. He has used his progress to inspire others to follow their dreams and he has shared his story to raise awareness of stroke in the community.

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had? 
It changed it a great deal as I was a fit healthy thirty-four year old, I had to learn to use parts of my right side and learn to speak again. I had weeks in rehab then it took a year or so to really feel like I was making progress in regards to getting back to full strength. The physical debilitation was one thing however the mental side in regards to losing faith in my body was and still is the hardest thing for me to deal with. Therefore pushing myself every day is part of my ongoing rehab as I slowly build trust in my body again.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey? 
My wife is 100% why I am here today and works with me every day when I suffer with anxiety (another little present having a stroke left me). She is the most amazing human on this planet.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey? 
It has changed the way I look at everything, it’s a cliché but life is short and I have a second chance so I am going to see what I can get out of my body. I am physically now 99% better but mentally I still have a way to go. I am working on this every day with the help of the people around me. 

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke? 
Stay positive and set yourself small goals each day, even if it is walking one step or wheeling your chair one meter. Or if you are stuck in bed do something like hold your hands out in front of you for 10 seconds. Then each day increase these things in very small increments. Try and enjoy the rehab, sometimes you will be frustrated but remember it’s a long game.

Brooke Parsons - VIC

Brooke Parsons

Brooke was a young, active 13 year old when stroke dramatically changed her life. She lived through some of her greatest fears and faced the type of challenges nobody should have to face as a young teenager. 

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had? 
I had no muscle control on the right side of my body. I was thinking clearly but nothing was coming out clearly. By the time my parents got me to the local hospital I was a baby again, unable to walk, talk, feed myself, dress myself, go to the toilet myself etc. 

Then over the last 25 years on top of the neuro, physio, speech, occupational therapy appointments, surgeries to correct deformities, other chronic health conditions have been diagnosed. All of which has brought more layers to what is now a complex medical history. In March 2019 I had my 80th surgery in 25 years. 

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey? 
My recovery is a journey that continues every day. I have to take the good days with the bad days. I'm walking, using aides most days but I am walking. I'm talking, I live in independently and I love being told "I can't do something" as that pushes me forward to prove people and myself wrong.

The biggest thing I probably battle with other than my physical disability is constant fatigue. I felt like a raggy doll owned by a little girl whose dragged me behind her for I have many scars as evidence. These scars are a part of my story, these scars have put me back together and they are evidence that I have been put to the test and have won. 

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke? 
My story is just one story of being a stroke survivor and unfortunately there are way too many stroke survivor stories out there. The fact that we have survived a stroke makes us extraordinary. Everyone is fighting a hard battle but all you need to do is look to see what are the other people are seeing. I always live in awe of the glorious mechanism of the human body!  

Stephen and Tracy Ward - NSW - Winner

Tracy and Stephen Ward

When and where did you suffer your stroke?
In 2013 Stephen had a headache one morning and while Tracy popped out of the house with their daughter Emily, Stephen suffered a stroke.  Tracy found him on the floor fifteen minutes later and recognising the FAST signs called triple zero immediately.  Unfortunately the paramedic that arrived twenty five minutes later, did not believe Stephen was having a stroke and transferred him to their local district hospital – which does not have a stroke unit.  Stephen arrived at the stroke unit approximately six hours after he suffered his stroke and missed time critical treatment.

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?
As a result Stephen spent 4 weeks in intensive care after undergoing emergency cranioplasty and suffered further complications later in ICU.  He then spent 6 weeks on the stroke ward and 5 months in rehabilitation.  All whilst Tracy and their children lived 150 km away in Denman.  Stephen was left with aphasia, some cognitive issues and right sided hemiplegia and hemianopia.

One thing that always bothered them about their experience was that if they had lived in a city, Stephen probably would have been able to access emergency clot busting therapy and would be back to living a full life.  Stephen will probably never return to work as a civil engineer and Tracy will always be his carer. 
 
How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?
When the Stroke Foundation were looking for people to talk to the media for their “No Postcode Untouched” promotion, Stephen and Tracy jumped at the chance to tell their story if only to bring more awareness of the divide that exists between city and country.  They later had the chance to tell their story to the people who can change the system.  Tracy and Stephen travelled to Parliament House in Canberra and addressed an audience that included the health minister, the Honourable Greg Hunt.

Since that day Tracy and Stephen have spent time contacting their local state and federal politicians to talk about funding for Stroke.  During the lead up to the NSW state election Tracy and Stephen spoke to four of the candidates in their seat securing support for the Stroke Foundation’s election platform.

They will continue to talk about their experience with politicians until the telehealth program is fully funded and there are much better retrieval systems in place for people who suffer strokes in the country.

Tania Shirgwin - SA

Tania Shirgwin

Tania was running her own small creative agency working with tourism and hospitality when she had her stroke. Luckily she recognised the stroke F.A.S.T. symptoms and has been making recovery and lives life to the fullest potential. 

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?
The stroke has left me with Homonymous Hemianopia, left side mobility issues and other strange habits (like I can’t keep my left shoe on unless it’s strapped on). Also I still have stroke fatigue, but it is nowhere as prominent as it was in the first year. I also suffer continual pain in my left side and get my arm strapped regularly. Also straight after the stroke, I found writing very difficult – it took me 2 hours once to write a Facebook post because I could not come up with the word umbrella. 
 
The loss of license (independence) became my biggest challenge because we were unsure how much visual field I had and I had to undergo driver Occupational Therapy and retrain. When I came out of rehabilitation, I was fortunate that my own physiotherapist did hydrotherapy. 

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey?
So so many people – it took a community! For my close family and friends – my big sister who left her family on Christmas Day to be with our 86 year old mum.  
A few friends banned together to pick me up after their kids school drop off and get me to hydro. Others picked me up after or organised the taxi service. It took my community – but everyone was so helpful and I am so grateful. 

BUT a huge thanks goes to a friend Claudine who is a nurse and recognised immediately I should connect with the Stroke Foundation. I actually hadn’t been told in either the hospital or rehab about the Stroke Foundation, so Claudine pulled all the information together and would visit me regularly driving up from Adelaide to assist me. She forced me to connect with the Stroke Foundation and that is when I realised I wasn’t alone. It was so enlightening to connect with others in a similar situation. 

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?
Of course stroke has changed my life immensely.  Four years in, I feel I have accomplished a lot though. Undertaking The Long Drive Up in Sept 2018 and fundraising for the Stroke Foundation was cathartic – gave me insights into my stroke journey and life journey. It also gave me closure on a few things which has helped keep me positive. Stroke will always be a part of my life, but it doesn’t define who I am.

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?
Do not give in or give up!  It may seem bleak and you will most possibly go through stages of grief and depression. Reach out to others – ask for help. And do connect with other stroke survivors whether that be in your local region or through the Stroke Foundation. 

Shane Isles - QLD

Shane Isles and his family

Shane was an active 29 year old who loved the outdoors when his life changed immensely. Shane was a fighter and has returned to many of his former abilities as well as being a father of two and becoming a recreation officer in the rehabilitation unit. 

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had?
Having a stroke changed my life immensely because it took some time for me to accept that it (the injury to my brain) was going to take a great length of time for me to reach a point where my recovery had reached its peak. I must admit that at times rehabilitation and therapy seemed insurmountable. Sometimes I would get frustrated and upset very easily and didn’t know why. I set achievable tasks for each day to avoid burn out.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey?

The one stand out positive way in which stroke has changed my life is that I am now employed as a recreation officer for Queensland Health at the Bundaberg Hospital (a goal I set back in 2011). I am extremely fortunate to have a job where I can make a real difference to patients in the ward in which I work, In particular the stroke patients.  

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke?
My advice is to accept the help from those around you including loved ones and health professionals because things are more challenging than before you have your stroke. Additionally try not to think too much about what you can’t do anymore, but focus on the things that you can.

Rob Goyen - WA

Rob Goyen

Rob has shown exceptional dedication to improving his own life after stroke. He has used his progress to inspire others to follow their dreams and he has shared his story to raise awareness of stroke in the community.

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had? 
It changed it a great deal as I was a fit healthy thirty-four year old, I had to learn to use parts of my right side and learn to speak again. I had weeks in rehab then it took a year or so to really feel like I was making progress in regards to getting back to full strength. The physical debilitation was one thing however the mental side in regards to losing faith in my body was and still is the hardest thing for me to deal with. Therefore pushing myself every day is part of my ongoing rehab as I slowly build trust in my body again.

Who has been there to help you through your stroke journey? 
My wife is 100% why I am here today and works with me every day when I suffer with anxiety (another little present having a stroke left me). She is the most amazing human on this planet.

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey? 
It has changed the way I look at everything, it’s a cliché but life is short and I have a second chance so I am going to see what I can get out of my body. I am physically now 99% better but mentally I still have a way to go. I am working on this every day with the help of the people around me. 

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke? 
Stay positive and set yourself small goals each day, even if it is walking one step or wheeling your chair one meter. Or if you are stuck in bed do something like hold your hands out in front of you for 10 seconds. Then each day increase these things in very small increments. Try and enjoy the rehab, sometimes you will be frustrated but remember it’s a long game.

Brooke Parsons - VIC

Brooke Parsons

Brooke was a young, active 13 year old when stroke dramatically changed her life. She lived through some of her greatest fears and faced the type of challenges nobody should have to face as a young teenager. 

How did a stroke change your life initially, and what medical treatment and rehabilitation have you had? 
I had no muscle control on the right side of my body. I was thinking clearly but nothing was coming out clearly. By the time my parents got me to the local hospital I was a baby again, unable to walk, talk, feed myself, dress myself, go to the toilet myself etc. 

Then over the last 25 years on top of the neuro, physio, speech, occupational therapy appointments, surgeries to correct deformities, other chronic health conditions have been diagnosed. All of which has brought more layers to what is now a complex medical history. In March 2019 I had my 80th surgery in 25 years. 

How has stroke changed your life and where are you now on your stroke journey? 
My recovery is a journey that continues every day. I have to take the good days with the bad days. I'm walking, using aides most days but I am walking. I'm talking, I live in independently and I love being told "I can't do something" as that pushes me forward to prove people and myself wrong.

The biggest thing I probably battle with other than my physical disability is constant fatigue. I felt like a raggy doll owned by a little girl whose dragged me behind her for I have many scars as evidence. These scars are a part of my story, these scars have put me back together and they are evidence that I have been put to the test and have won. 

What advice would you give a stroke survivor or someone that has recently suffered a stroke? 
My story is just one story of being a stroke survivor and unfortunately there are way too many stroke survivor stories out there. The fact that we have survived a stroke makes us extraordinary. Everyone is fighting a hard battle but all you need to do is look to see what are the other people are seeing. I always live in awe of the glorious mechanism of the human body!